Witnessing Suffering

Whether you're exploring Buddhism for the first time or you're already on the path, feel free to ask questions of any kind here.

Witnessing Suffering

Postby OnePath » Thu Nov 01, 2012 6:24 pm

When I see someone, either human or animal suffer, I feel a great sense of suffering as well. As a Buddhist, is this a normal reaction to such events??
OnePath
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:54 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby Ayu » Thu Nov 01, 2012 6:33 pm

Yes.
The next step ist to establish Equanimity. The less ego, the less suffering while witnessing suffering.
Because one looses the thought "I suffer cause I have to look at this."
Instead there grows the thought "How to help?"
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?
From 10th of 37 Bodhisattva Practices
User avatar
Ayu
 
Posts: 935
Joined: Mon Oct 29, 2012 8:25 am
Location: Europe

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby OnePath » Thu Nov 01, 2012 6:51 pm

Yes, exactly! That is what I ask myself, is what can I do to help the other person to help relieve their suffering. I have made one little goal that I try to accomplish every day and that is to make at least one person laugh. There have been times where people have thanked me because they needed that laugh. So I see it as a little bit of happiness that removes some of a persons suffering. I just have to practice enough to be able to continue to think that way so that I don't overlook it.
OnePath
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:54 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby Ayu » Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:01 pm

Today you made one person smile at least. :smile:
Because, if our mothers, who have been kind to us
From beginningless time, are suffering,
What can we do with (just) our own happiness?
From 10th of 37 Bodhisattva Practices
User avatar
Ayu
 
Posts: 935
Joined: Mon Oct 29, 2012 8:25 am
Location: Europe

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby lowlydog » Thu Nov 01, 2012 7:28 pm

OnePath wrote:When I see someone, either human or animal suffer, I feel a great sense of suffering as well. As a Buddhist, is this a normal reaction to such events??


Whats a Buddhist?
lowlydog
 
Posts: 371
Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:50 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby OnePath » Thu Nov 01, 2012 9:27 pm

Someone who has taken refuge in the triple jewels.
OnePath
 
Posts: 9
Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2012 5:54 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby lobster » Fri Nov 02, 2012 8:47 am

When I see someone, either human or animal suffer, I feel a great sense of suffering as well. As a Buddhist, is this a normal reaction to such events??


Unless heavily brutalised or desensitized, I feel that is a normal reaction for most people.
User avatar
lobster
 
Posts: 951
Joined: Wed Sep 05, 2012 9:06 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby lowlydog » Fri Nov 02, 2012 1:16 pm

OnePath wrote:When I see someone, either human or animal suffer, I feel a great sense of suffering as well. As a Buddhist, is this a normal reaction to such events??


This sense of suffering is caused by repeated reaction, If we identify something as pleasant, we experience pleasant sensations, if we identify something as unpleasant, we experience unpleasant sensations.
This is the old habit pattern of the mind, and it is the cause of the endless cycle of birth and death.

This is ignorant behaviour, but because all beings who have not fully awakened suffer from this affliction, and the human realm is full of ignorant beings, it does seem to be the normal behaviour of humans, but it does not have to be.

Buddhists do not have the market cornered in this department. To identify ones self as something (Buddhist, Christian, Muslum, American, Chinese, ......) is to create a duality(subject and object) and the buddha taught no-self.

If you are asking what can I do to end suffering?

Practice the Noble 8-fold path and purify the mind. :smile:
lowlydog
 
Posts: 371
Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:50 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby cicadasong » Mon Nov 05, 2012 6:45 am

I am strongly affected by this as well. When presented with suffering, I think the danger lies in the tendency to harden yourself to it. I live in a city where homelessness is a huge problem, and for years, I would cross the street just so I wouldn't have to look at the mentally ill poor begging for food. It made me (and still makes me) sick with pity and hopelessness.

lowlydog wrote:
OnePath wrote:When I see someone, either human or animal suffer, I feel a great sense of suffering as well. As a Buddhist, is this a normal reaction to such events??


If you are asking what can I do to end suffering?

Practice the Noble 8-fold path and purify the mind. :smile:


I think the real struggle with that (for a novice like myself) is accepting that I can't alleviate anyone's suffering immediately. I can (and do) stop and sit with them and offer to share my lunch, but what after that? It's still cold outside. He still can't get medical treatment. He and I may smile for a short period of time, but that seems inconsequential compared to the ocean of suffering ahead of us. The wrong reaction is "I suffer from looking at this, and if I can't end this person's suffering now, I just won't look." I know that this is a problem of ego, but as a novice, I struggle with this behavior.
User avatar
cicadasong
 
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Sep 20, 2012 9:46 am

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby lowlydog » Mon Nov 05, 2012 12:06 pm

Hi cicadasong,

We can support others, and point to the truth, but ultimately each individual must do their own work.
lowlydog
 
Posts: 371
Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:50 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby viniketa » Mon Nov 05, 2012 2:51 pm

cicadasong wrote:I am strongly affected by this as well. When presented with suffering, I think the danger lies in the tendency to harden yourself to it. I live in a city where homelessness is a huge problem, and for years, I would cross the street just so I wouldn't have to look at the mentally ill poor begging for food. It made me (and still makes me) sick with pity and hopelessness.... I think the real struggle with that (for a novice like myself) is accepting that I can't alleviate anyone's suffering immediately
.

It is something I suffer, as well. I don't think this is just a "novice" reaction. Particularly with the hardcore homeless, the feelings of hopelessness can be overwhelming. Also, I think we are a bit afraid that a single act of kindness will require more from us, that we will be "sucked in". Sometimes, however, simply a smile and acknowledging another's existence is an enormous kindness. And, if one is able, to contribute toward food. If one is to make a gift of money, one cannot worry about how it will be spent. I know that is not the popular viewpoint at the moment, but a gift is a gift. A gift is given without conditions.

I think this is why meditation on the thought of countless sentient beings to be liberated is encouraged. That task makes the one in front of us look more manageable.

:namaste:
If they can sever like and dislike, along with greed, anger, and delusion, regardless of their difference in nature, they will all accomplish the Buddha Path.. ~ Sutra of Complete Enlightenment
User avatar
viniketa
 
Posts: 819
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:39 am
Location: USA

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby Queequeg » Mon Nov 05, 2012 6:06 pm

Hi OP,

I believe that your empathetic response is not only natural, it is proof of your innate Buddhahood.

I disagree with Lowlydog, and probably many others. Empathy is not some outgrowth of ignorance. Rather, it is the manifestation of our innate Buddhahood. In my understanding, ignorance can have a distorting effect on how this capacity manifests and cause it to be detrimental - but this is the same with all of our qualities.

The empathetic reaction we have is a natural function in most human beings. It is hardwired part of what we are.

Until recently most philosophers and psychologists thought that babies and young children were profoundly amoral creatures. They also thought that children were irrational and egocentric -- unable to think logically or take the perspective of others. Jean Piaget and later Lawrence Kohlberg, the founders of the study of moral development, argued that children did not have truly moral concepts until adolescence. Instead, children simply thought that whatever other people told them to do was right.

In the last thirty years scientists have completely overturned this view. Even the youngest babies imitate the facial expressions of other people and take on their emotions -- a kind of empathy. This ability is NOT just the result of the much-hyped "mirror neurons" since, for one thing, mirror neurons have been found in monkeys who rarely imitate others. But it does show that human babies, in particular, are tuned in to other people in an especially close way.

By 18 months, babies have gone beyond empathy to genuine altruism, After all empathy just means I feel your pain, altruism means I try to make you feel better even when I don't feel that way myself.

from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alison-gopnik/empathic-civilization-ama_b_473961.html

I don't think it is either healthy or consistent with Buddhadharma to try and neutralize this innate tendency. Might as well also try to suppress all of your qualities - and unfortunately, there are people counseling that this is Buddhism. I believe they are wrong.

I agree with lowlydog that empathy is not unique to Buddhists or Buddhism. However, the manner in which we understand and approach it is fairly unique. For instance, Buddhist teachers, in particular the Mahayana, devote considerable effort to encourage and cultivate this innate tendency - look at the popularity of Avalokitesvara/Kuanyin/Kannon/Chenrezig - "Perceiver of the World's Sounds" who hears the calls of all who call on her in their suffering. Or consider the widely encouraged practices for developing loving kindness and compassion.

In the form of Buddhism I subscribe to, the cultivation of our empathetic tendencies is not a pursuit of ignorance, but rather the cultivation of the innate qualities of the Buddha.

All of us, are fully endowed with all the qualities of the Buddha. We are all Buddhas to be. One of the greatest characteristics of the Buddha is his compassion for all beings. Your natural empathetic response to the suffering of others is a capacity that will be more fully developed and perfected as you practice being a Buddha. If you have any doubt about your innate Buddhahood, your natural tendency for empathy should be a joyful confirmation of your Buddhahood.
Queequeg
 
Posts: 270
Joined: Tue Jul 03, 2012 3:24 pm

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby duckfiasco » Mon Nov 05, 2012 7:17 pm

I think fear is an important part of the path, whether it be fear of getting "sucked in", fear of feeling hopeless, or fear of genuinely feeling another's suffering if you stop to have a conversation. As Pema Chödrön said, "Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth." I'm guilty of all of the things people have said so far, not making eye contact, crossing the street, ignoring... Don't discount the merit of realizing you're doing these things and also realizing it's a form of protecting your heart. There is merit to be had and dedicated in the mere act of seeing your own tendency to protect yourself from suffering. It's something we have in common with uncountable beings. Use this fear as another reminder of interdependence, and especially as a steppingstone to really get at those sides of ourselves we're so good at hiding :) Poison into the path of bodhi.

With enough of this kind of thought, you may one day feel you're up to the task of making eye contact, smiling, saying hi and asking their name. Even this is of immesurable benefit, especially for those who are used to being marginalized and shunned. If you feel their pain deeply, it's no less than Chenrezig or your own compassion pointing out that this is another being, more like you than not, and ultimately someone who was once your mother or your child. Anyone would be distraught seeing someone they love suffering from mental illness or deplorable living conditions. And relatively, all of these people ARE beings who were once or still are loved dearly by someone else. How unfortunate that any being still suffers, especially so deeply and visibly! It really breaks your heart :thinking:

Since most of us aren't social workers or millionaires with ample resources, we have to help in other ways. And as fellow samsaric beings, what we offer can seem like a drop in a huge ocean of suffering. Who cares about the aspiration to relieve this person's suffering if all we do is smile at them and go on our way? It matters because even this small aspiration is rare among samsaric beings. This thought, "This being, my mother, is suffering. May they be free." goes much farther than others who feel a fleeting pity or most who ignore them completely. Even a pitiful drop of merit, like karma generally, will grow and grow if in a conducive environment, and luckily the Three Jewels are such an environment. Accumulate every little scrap of merit, every little compassionate thought, and dedicate it to these others in such bad need of it.

If we already had perfect wisdom and perfect compassion, we wouldn't be here in the first place. So like the poor woman who could offer only a single butter lamp, but whose lamp kept shining long after all the others, let's not discount the value of working on our compassion and our wisdom in whatever capacity we can. Merit, dedicate, merit, dedicate, practice your ass off for these suffering beings. Eventually your bucket of tiny slivers of jewels will be full. Then we'll all be guru Buddhas and know just what to do! That'll be the day :rolling:

Until then, don't worry and do your best :) What else are you gonna do??
Namu Amida Butsu
"When people of the Pure Land school chant Namu amida butsu, they are doing zazen with their mouths, and when we do zazen, we are performing Namu amida butsu with our whole body." - Kosho Uchiyama (Opening the Hand of Thought)
User avatar
duckfiasco
 
Posts: 528
Joined: Thu Feb 09, 2012 7:11 am
Location: Oregon

Re: Witnessing Suffering

Postby lowlydog » Wed Nov 07, 2012 1:13 am

Queequeg wrote:

I disagree with Lowlydog, and probably many others. Empathy is not some outgrowth of ignorance. Rather, it is the manifestation of our innate Buddhahood. In my understanding, ignorance can have a distorting effect on how this capacity manifests and cause it to be detrimental - but this is the same with all of our qualities.

The empathetic reaction we have is a natural function in most human beings. It is hardwired part of what we are.




If your saying that everytime you get robbed, lose your job, break a shoelace, etc... It's necessary due to hardwiring that I experience painful sensations, then you are mistaken.

I may still choose to assist you in your moment of need, but there is no reason for me to feel anything painful or uncomfortable.
lowlydog
 
Posts: 371
Joined: Tue Oct 30, 2012 10:50 pm


Return to Exploring Buddhism

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: RedFox, Soar and 31 guests

>